Village Green Bookstore opened in 1972 in a 600-square-foot basement store at 766 Monroe Avenue in Rochester, New York, before its reputation among the community’s book lovers spread and it expanded into the larger storefront upstairs.
The store had a coffee bar before they became common in bookstores and despite starting out by selling only the local Sunday edition, would offer more than 100 newspapers and 2,400 magazines. Eventually, while books were still a staple of the business, they became lost behind their rapidly expanding merchandise line.
By 1992, Village Green had added as many as eight new stores throughout Central and Western New York, including locations at 1089 Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst and 765 Elmwood Avenue in the Elmwood Village. But the growth for the company had become troublesome. Hoping to solve their financial problems, the chain continued to expand locations and product offerings. In doing so, as tends to happen when a company forces growth in order to dominate the market, Village Green forgot their purpose and mission. The company had forgotten what one of the founders, John Borek, had said not long after opening; their intention was to cater to “people who were hungry for books.” Instead, they were selling ice cream and inflatable bagels.
Within a few years they had added stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but with a series of catastrophic financial decisions that involved lawsuits, criminal charges and SEC investigations, the company began closing “underperforming” stores, including a third location in Western New York, in the McKinley Plaza in Blasdell. The closures and merchandise sell offs could not keep the company afloat however and in 1998 they had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The following year, the flagship store on Monroe closed it doors for good, eventually becoming a Pizza Hut.
Designed when Wright was thirty-nine years old and little known outside the circles of Chicago’s elite, Browne’s Bookshop was as unique for it intent to feel very much like a home library or study as for its location on the seventh floor, and despite its short life was known as “the most beautiful bookshop in the world.”
Wright modeled the glass lamp shades from the windows he’d designed for his childrens’ rooms, and organized the store’s bookshelves around reading tables to create cozy alcoves in which to explore.
Francis Fisher Browne, the store’s owner and editor of the literary magazine The Dial, relocated the store to the building’s ground floor in 1910 but closed it for good two years later.
While the Fine Arts Building still stands at 410 S. Michigan Avenue and some of the interiors look much the same as they did a century ago, no trace of Frank Lloyd Wright remains.
Check out the original article at the Paris Review for more information, including an interesting story about why the future editor of The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, abruptly quit her position as the bookshop’s manager.
More photos of the bookshop and the book covers Wright designed for the Caxton Club can also be found at this online catalog of Wright’s work, The Wright Library.
Some conversations with customers are a bit like a trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole where you just kind of hold on and see where you end up. You know how it goes: one minute you’re watching a Hidden Valley salad dressing commercial with Jenny Garth and three hours later your roommate finds you rocking back and forth watching the Richard Donner cut of Superman II and you have a perfectly reasonable, logical and well documented explanation for how you got from point A to B.
It happens to us all. But that’s how these conversations can go; they’ll start with a perfectly innocent (albeit stupid) question and then it’s liftoff. That customer sweeps through and picks you up, and really, who knows where you’re going to end up when they’re done with you.
One customer confided in me in graphic detail how he would like to murder a Florida prosecutor who had convicted his son of having attempted to murder his wife. It wasn’t that the man doubted his son’s guilt, in fact, his crime was also described for me in great detail, but instead simply that this attorney had the nerve to punish his boy. I’d known the man all of thirty seconds when this happened and was only trying to recommend a nice supernatural teen series for his granddaughter. This happens. A lot.
“Does it matter what tablet I have?” the woman asked me when I noticed her at the ereader accessories display. “Is there a difference between the sizes for these cases?”
“Oh yeah. Everything’s a different size. Which device do you have?”
“I don’t know. It was my son’s—my older son’s. He got a new one and gave his to his younger brother, I don’t know what it is or what size. It looks like these.”
I explained that she needed to get the make and model of the device, that she should ask her son about it. He’ll know what it is, so as long as she writes it down, we can tell her whether there’s something in the store that would work, or if she needs to look elsewhere to get a case for her baby boy’s new toy.
At this point, I think we’re done. I think she thought we were done. We should have been done. That would have been cool, since up until this point, she seemed nice. And not crazy at all.
Nope. Nope, not done, because then she notices a display we have up. Ok, busted, it wasn’t a company mandated display but instead one we threw up because we had boxes of this teen series and nowhere to put it. See, we sold a handful of Asylum and its sequel Sanctum, so the company shipped us 60 more of each one. That’s how it goes. Sell one? Here’s seven! Returned four? No, you must have done that by mistake, here’s fifteen!
“Oh what’s this?!”
“That? That’s a cool teen series, I think this one’s the first one,” I say, pointing to it, “It’s about kids in a prep school who live in an old psych hospital. There’s all these photographs throughout the—”
“That’s disgusting when they do that, like that one, they shouldn’t be opening a hotel or whatever, they need to tear that place down, I used to work there, there’s no reason to keep it around—”
“Yeah, of course,” I said before realizing I had no idea what she was talking about. Now she’s fired up, she’s talking and she’s talking fast. There’s barely a space between words or a breath between sentences, there’s no space between thoughts. You’re going to have trouble keeping up. “Wait, what place?”
“The Richardson Complex. I used to work there, it was horrible, I lasted a week, I was in college, you should have seen the way they were treated there, the kids had to take care of other patients and most of them weren’t even crazy, they’d just been abandoned and no one knew what to do with them, you know who was crazy? The ones running the place, those were the crazy ones, and the ones who want to turn it into a hotel now—”
“That reminds me of a book we have in our biography section,” I said, hoping to bring the conversation back around to her spending some money, “It’s the State Boys Rebellion, about kids who were institutionalized in the 50s, most of them were just unwanted—”
“No, they weren’t there—”
“At the Psych Center, that wasn’t them.”
“Well no, it was a different institution, but it’s like what you were saying about—”
“It wasn’t them, I can’t believe they would do that, they need to tear that place down, whatever with it being a historical building, it’s disgusting what happened there, no, I don’t think I can read those, those kids shouldn’t even have been there, so I should talk to my son and see what kind of tablet he has?”
“Exactly,” I agreed. I was starting to get dizzy. “Ask him who made it and what the name of it was, the make and model, and we can figure out what kind of case you need and whether we have it or not.”
“OK, honey, you’re so sweet, I will, I’ll ask him and come back and see you, thank you for taking the time, I’ll see you soon.”
And then she’s gone, and you stand there for a few seconds. Sometimes you smile to yourself and shake your head, sometimes another customer who may have overheard a part of the conversation makes eye contact with you and you both laugh. Your laughter isn’t malicious. You’re not laughing to be mean or to make fun of them; you’re genuinely amused by this crazy person tornado you just experienced. In fact, you’re not even sure you helped this customer at all even though they left super happy about their experience in the store and the amazing customer service they received.
Well, at least from their perspective. You’re still wondering what just happened.